Ditch Your Rosé: Orange Wine Is Burning Hot


Orange wine is something I feel I have read about more often than I have seen it in the past few years. It is definitely not on every wine list I encounter nor is it taking up a lot of shelf space in the places where I buy wine. When the opportunity for a taste has arisen usually as a temporary novelty on a wine bar list, I am always eager to try it; sometimes I’ve loved it and other times I’ve been more neutral. Whether the orange wine trend will continue to grow is still under discussion but, as a style, it seems to be here to stay. Recently, I made a point to seek out as many orange wines as I could find in my own market and collect my thoughts on the wines that are available now.
The type of wine that I’m talking about is not a fruit wine made from oranges or infused with orange juice in any way. It is a style of winemaking that is often described as a more natural way of making wine. The main idea is that the white grapes macerate with their skins and seeds for a certain time period in the same way that red wines do. This imparts the golden to amber color to these wines leading to the commonly used name of “orange wine”.

This extended maceration time naturally creates sulfides that help protect the wine from oxida-tion while imparting more texture and flavor to the wine while deepening the color. While there has not been an agreed upon “how to” list for the production of orange wines beyond the extended skin contact, many quality producers of orange wine seem to follow certain protocol. The wines are typically neither fined nor filtered and little to no sulfur is added during production. The wines are often created from native yeasts and aged in old wooden barrels or clay vessels called qvevri which are lined with beeswax and buried underground for temperature control.

Extended skin contact may mean days, weeks or months.

While this may be a new trend for modern wine drinkers, the process itself is based in the ancient winemaking of the country of Georgia where it is believed there has been continuous wine production for over 8,000 years. Josko Gravner, a producer in Italy’s Fruili region began researching and adapting his modern winemaking style to this classic approach in the ‘90s and numerous other producers in his area and around the world have since followed suit.

This winemaking technique tends to produce wines in a range of colors from yellow to coppery or tawny brown, all will not appear “orange”. The type of grape and length of maceration and aging will also determine the depth of color. The wines are sometimes cloudy due to the lack of fining or filtration. The wines tend to have a fuller body and richer texture than is typically seen with white wine made from more conventional techniques, some have an oxidized or Sherry-like character. The wines have a more red wine-like tannic structure with nutty and honeyed aromas and flavors. All the wines that I tasted were dry and tasted best when served at cellar tempera-ture. I recommend pairing this type of wine with young, semi-soft cheese, charcuterie, vegetable dishes, mushroom risotto or simply prepared seafood.

Here are some recommended wines for you to try:

2004 Gravner Anfora Bianco Breg - A Venezia Giulia IGT wine, this was produced by the iconic style maker himself, Josko Gravner from a blend of white grapes, primarily Sauvignon Blanc with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico in a traditional Georgian terra-cotta qvevri jar. This full bodied wine was an amber color in the glass. It had good acidity and it showed primarily nutty aromas with apricot and orange zest, a bit of earth and a light honeysuckle floral note with a bit of that Sherry-like oxidized quality. It had dried tropical fruit flavors with some citrus and nut-meg and an extended mineral laced finish. Approximately $130 a bottle.

2011 Zidarich Vitovska - Also from the Venezia Giulia IGT, this wine was made from Vitovska grapes which are primarily found in northeastern Italy and Slovenia. Golden colored in the glass, this wine was very aromatically intense and flavorful. Full bodied, richly textured with fresh acidi-ty. It had aromas and flavors of marmalade, honey and salty nuts with ripe tangerine and peach through the long, slightly savory finish. Approximately $55 a bottle.

2012 Kante Vitovska - Same area and grape as above, it was a golden color in the glass, this wine was also full bodied and richly textured with refreshing acidity. It had a baked pear character with baking spice, honey and a bit of smokiness in the long mineral finish. Approximately $45 a bottle.

2012 Coenobium Ruscum - This blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Verdicchio is a product of Cistercian nuns in Lazio, Italy. A slightly cloudy lemon-yellow in the glass, this wine was medium-bodied with good acidity and a creamy texture. It had more subdued aromas on opening. It evolves into floral honeysuckle over apple cider with a touch of dried herbs with a long citrus finish. Approximately $39 a bottle. (Honorable mention for the 2012 Coenobium Lazio Bianco with its interesting pumpernickel, crackers and citrus character, a bit more viscous, only $32 a bottle).

2010 Movia Rebula - This wine was created by a biodynamic producer in Slovenia from Ribolla-Gialla grapes. It was a pale amber color in the glass. It was full bodied with refreshing acidity with aromas and flavors of apple tart and caramel with a bit of a citrus blossom nuance and a long, nutty finish. Approximately $35 a bottle.

2010 Cantina Giardino Gaia Campania Fiano- This southern Italian wine was a hazy, pale yellow in the glass with a full body and good acidity. It had a yeasty, apple cider quality with a bit of honeysuckle and a long citrus and mineral finish. Approximately $30 a bottle.

2012 Matthiasson Napa Valley Ribolla Gialla Matthiasson Vineyard - The Ribolla Gialla budwood originated from Josko Gravner. He shared it with Napa winemaker George Vare and, eventually, it was also grafted into Steve Matthiasson’s home vineyard where it is organically managed. This wine was a hazy lemon-yellow in the glass. It was dry, medium+ bodied with ripe peach, apple and tangerine with hazelnuts and a touch of spice in the finish. Approximately $30 a bottle.

Sandra Crittenden publishes Wine Thoughts, a Houston-based wine blog. She writes a recurrent printed wine feature for Galveston Monthly magazine and contributes to other publications such as Edible Hou-ston in a freelance capacity. Sandra has served as a wine judge for the Houston Livestock Show & Ro-deo International Wine Competition since 2011. Sandra strives to stay current with the world of wine through industry and trade tastings. She is active with the Houston Sommelier Association and the Guild of Sommeliers. An avid traveler, Sandra is always up to visit someplace new. She lives near Houston, Texas, with her husband and her cat. She has two children who live away at college. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the Houston wine and food scene and trying to perfect her headstand.

Mentioned in this article


  • By ditching Rose you mean White Zinfandel then I will agree with you 100%. An orange wine is white wine vinifiedI like a red wine. I believe that it will have a place in the wine circle. It is a wine that will have potential in the future but first the consumers need to learn about. To do that they need to be educated on white, rose and red wine. This wine is not for everyone.
    The are also few wines that you try domaine Gauby from Roussillon, Thierry Germainfrom Vallée de la Loire, the domaine Tissot from Jura.

    Jul 09, 2015 at 1:47 PM

  • I won't really be ditching the pink wines anytime soon, I love them all summer and beyond. It was fascinating to me to see that, as a category, orange wine has become more available than I thought it would be in the Houston market. I was delighted at how many good bottles I found that were both interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. I will try to seek out the bottles that you recommended, thanks for reading!

    Jul 09, 2015 at 2:25 PM

  • Snooth User: mykobi
    210856 10

    Very interesting article!
    However, the author's recommended list doesn't include the Georgian producers, while Georgia is the place of origin for "orange" wines, or as a more appropriate name, "amber" wines.
    I don't think Amber wines would replace Roses. Ambers are heavier, and much more tannic compare to Roses, but will stand alone as a category.
    Lagvinari Tsolikouri and Lagvinari Khikhvi would be my recommendations..

    Jul 09, 2015 at 3:52 PM

  • Thanks for the article. The world definitely needs to discover more Orange or "amber" wines. I agree, I amsurprised no Georgian wines made the list. Highly recommend some old vine examples: Orgo Rkatsiteli 2012, Orgo Kisi 2013. Both recently got 90+ points in Wine and Spirits Magazine. Also give a try to Vinoterra wines Vinoterra Rkatsiteli 2013 and the elusive Vinoterra Mtsvane 2012 (93 Points and only $15). Cheers!

    Jul 10, 2015 at 11:49 AM

  • Does anyone know the availability of these wines in the New Orleans market? i have never had the pleasure and am always on the lookout for something different.

    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:33 PM

  • Snooth User: banita24
    1891926 6

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    Jul 11, 2015 at 5:27 AM

  • Snooth User: Barolisto
    1892018 7

    Do you find virtue or value in wines that are oxidized or which exhibit the flaw of "sulfides" (rotten egg, cabbage, swampy, burnt match) simply because someone claims these are "natural"? There are many things which are "natural," but they can be most unpleasant or harmful.

    One of the reasons you cannot easily find some of these "Orange Wines" is that many buyers in stores and restaurants have an understanding of what constitutes a quality wine. A wine that stinks of rotten eggs or which is oxidized and spoiled is likely going to be sent back by a restaurant diner or returned by a buyer at a wine store.

    Jul 11, 2015 at 6:41 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    White Zinfandel is really a rose' wine. It was mainly scoffed at by the cognoscenti due to the presence in some of residual sugar. This was wine snobbery. I have encountered residual sugar in any number of highly touted (by those same cognoscenti) European wines.
    Orange wines are in essence, fine. The problem is many are part of the so called "natural" wine movement and the irrational fear of sulfites. As one responder here notes oxidative notes can be a problem--it depends upon how severe and how much tolerance the consumer has. However, there's a more problematic issue with many of these wines. They are inherently unstable and as such, can present problems once they leave the winery. Transportation and storage can be critical.
    One is always left with the question of exactly where those "funky" and "off" aromas and flavors are coming from.
    They are often not inexpensive. The Gravner cited in the piece is a very complex and excellent wine but at over $100 a bottle, few consumers are willing to "take a chance" on it. Also many of these wines are idiosyncratic enough as to be appreciated by a relatively few.
    The less expensive efforts are rarely IMOP, much more complex than most Rose's.

    Rose' wines have become popular because of their freshness and their crisp easy drinking nature. We have seen some creeping into the over $20 and even $30 plus range and some attempts to justify the higher prices by touting the producer (many who are noted for their red and white wines) or those who are attempting to push the wines closer to what should be the "light" red category.

    Jul 14, 2015 at 1:06 PM

  • Snooth User: wineaux46
    1061935 14

    I too went on a search for orange wines a couple of years ago. For the most part, retailers and wholesalers did not have a clue about what I was asking for. That is starting to change now, but slowly. I found the aromatics to be very enjoyable but the taste tended to be bitter, oxidized and funky. Very glad I went through the exercise, but not my go to wines.

    Jul 15, 2015 at 2:47 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    wineaux46--sometimes it is the other way round: the nose is funky and even nasty while the wine actually tastes fine. The reason orange wines are hard to find--though most shops in Brooklyn NY will have some for the folks who have bought into the "fad." (really more like a ruse). The truth is--I doubt there are very many made to begin with. And of course--tenet one of wine geekery says only wines made in tiny quantities are worthy! So how much orange wine is there for the tens of thousands of wine shops and restaurants here?

    Again, there are some worth looking into. Those are far and few between. I think the points behind Rose' and Orange wines are totally different.

    Jul 15, 2015 at 3:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Azideam
    1892598 15

    Suggest trying out the 2010 Mercury Orange from Alexander Valley if you can find it. No funk. Dry-farmed Wente clone Chard, made in neutral oak. I have found that it pairs great with chioppino (as well as butternut squash soup) . New vintage will be released in 2016.

    Jul 16, 2015 at 12:12 PM

  • Hi. I sent an email when this article was 1st released. Kante do not macerate. They have experimented with it, yes. However this 2012 is a white wine, through and through.

    Oct 18, 2017 at 6:17 PM

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